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Int Rev Cytol. 1998;177:57-113.

Molecules involved in mammalian sperm-egg interaction.

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Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


To achieve fertilization, sperm and egg are equipped with specific molecules which mediate the steps of gamete interaction. In mammals, the first interaction between sperm and egg occurs at an egg-specific extracellular matrix, the zona pellucida (zp). The three glycoproteins, ZP1, ZP2, and ZP3, that comprise the zp have been characterized from many species and assigned different roles in gamete interaction. A large number of candidate-binding partners for the zp proteins have been described; a subset of these have been characterized structurally and functionally. Galactosyltransferase, sp56, zona receptor kinase, and spermadhesins are thought to participate in the primary binding between sperm and zp and may initiate the exocytotic release of hydrolytic enzymes in the sperm head, the acrosome reaction. Digestion of the zp by these enzymes enables sperm to traverse the zp, at which time the proteins PH20, proacrosin, sp38, and Sp17 are thought to participate in secondary binding between the acrosome-reacted sperm and zp. Once through the zp, sperm and egg plasma membranes meet and fuse in a process reported to involve the egg integrin alpha 6 beta 1 and the sperm proteins DE and fertilin. These molecules and the processes involved in gamete interaction are reviewed in this chapter within a physiological context.

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